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Nurse Burnout: Five Physical Symptoms + How to Relieve Them

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When you’re burning the candle at both ends, you may burn that candle out. You may begin to suffer from a condition aptly known as “burnout.” 

So, what is burnout? This condition presents as physical and mental exhaustion. The common signs of burnout include an inexplicable sense of apathy or compassion fatigue. You may experience physical symptoms as well, which we’ll explore later.

If you’re feeling burned out, your mind and body are telling you that you need a break. Learn what signs to look for and how to deal with burnout.

Five physical symptoms of burnout

What does burnout feel like? Some people experience mental problems. They may feel listless and detached in their work environment, even when doing something they love. 

Mental signs of occupational burnout can be hard to distinguish from depression, emotional exhaustion, and fatigue. But if you are experiencing less tangible symptoms and any of the physical ones below, you’re likely experiencing burnout. 

  1. Fatigue: Fatigue goes beyond your average feeling of tiredness. It’s feeling exhausted no matter how much you rest or sleep. 
  2. Headaches: Dull pain in your head and pressure in your forehead and neck can be signs of a stress headache
  3. Trouble sleeping: This symptom can present as intermittent or interrupted sleep or even insomnia. 
  4. Stomach aches and intestinal issues: Stress is something we can feel in our gut,  thanks to hormones and neurotransmitters that affect intestinal movement. Too much stress can even weaken your immune system. Remember, the mind is part of the body, so taking care of your body means taking care of your mind.
  5. Loss of appetite: If you’re not feeling hungry but continue to live a fast-paced, high-energy lifestyle, this may be a sign that stress is getting the best of you. 
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Five causes of burnout 

It’s probably no surprise that job burnout is common among medical workers. Healthcare professionals have stressful careers, but their work is also physically and emotionally demanding on their bodies and mental health. Here are some top reasons why people in this field experience burnout:

  1. Financial stressors (like student debt) 
  2. Lack of sleep and long shifts (or too many consecutive shifts)
  3. Mundane administrative tasks that take up valuable time 
  4. Loss of control over patient outcomes 
  5. A poor working environment (bad philosophical fit, lack of community, unfair practices or skewed compensation) 

What are the risks of nurse burnout? 

Never underestimate the power of mental health. While burnout can have physical symptoms that we might be able to put a bandaid on, we shouldn’t ignore the psychological roots of what we are feeling. Burnout can have severe consequences:

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  • Conflict: People who aren’t feeling like themselves may become argumentative with their peers. Burnout can prevent them from being able to meter our emotions and reactions. 
  • Lack of efficiency: Nurses must constantly be on the go and accurate in their work. But if you’re suffering from burnout, your productivity, efficiency and even attention to detail can take a hit, which can negatively impact a medical professional’s ability to provide patient care. 
  • Early mortality: This severe outcome can result in individuals who suffer from chronic stress. When people are constantly anxious and burnt out, their quality of life diminishes, and constant stress can lead to severe physical conditions like coronary heart disease and diabetes.

How to fight nurse burnout

If you’re seeing signs of burnout in yourself, it’s time to take action. Here are a few places to start.

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  1. Find support: You provide your patients with a lot of emotional support, but you need (and deserve!) it in return, too. Don’t be ashamed to let your friends or family members take care of you, and feel free to lean on your peers. Your colleagues may be feeling the same way you do, and you can share remedies that have worked to mitigate symptoms.
  2. Get out of your head: One of the best ways to do self-care if you’re experiencing burnout is to take up yoga, meditation, hiking or another activity that keeps you in your body and out of your head. A perk? You may even get a mood boost from the endorphins. 
  3. Get to the room of the problem: You might not be able to change your long hours or the intensity of your work, but there may be some things you can take off your plate. Try to delegate tasks that cause you work-related stress. Look for stressors in your personal life. Don’t be shy about asking for help. 
  4. Don’t underestimate the power of sleep: Getting enough sleep regulates our bodies and minds. We feel better when we sleep well (there’s no arguing that!) so establishing good sleep habits is key. Turn off your cell phone at night, put on your sleep mask and do all you can to prioritize being consistent with your bedtime. 
  5. Say “no”: Part of not taking on more than we can handle is knowing our limits and saying “no” when the intensity of the work becomes too much. We will always have to do certain tasks, but we don’t have to go above and beyond if it’s to our detriment. It’s better to take care of ourselves by knowing and respecting our limits instead of pushing ourselves too hard. 
  6. Get professional help: Therapy is a wise choice, even if you aren’t suffering from burnout syndrome. It always helps to talk to a professional therapist or psychologist about what you’re going through to learn more about yourself and how to handle delicate emotions. A psychologist can help you manage burnout and understand what may be causing it. 

We know how hard you work and that doing so can impact your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Our mission is to keep you feeling great in whatever way we can, whether with premium, comfortable scrubs and accessories or tips on how to live your best life. 

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